Will BCCI make cricket betting legal in India? Bookies feel it's impossible

Jan 08, 2016, 08:52 IST | Shantanu Guha Ray

Bookies confident about legalisation of sports betting not taking place even as BCCI considers forming a team to study Lodha panel's recommendations

New Delhi: The Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) may be contemplating forming a special team to study retired chief justice RM Lodha Commission's recommendation to make sports betting legal in India, but bookies controlling the Rs 100,000 crore illegal market are unruffled.

Punjab Police arrest three alleged cricket bookies at Amritsar in 2007. Pic for representation purpose only
Punjab Police arrest three alleged cricket bookies at Amritsar in 2007. Pic for representation purpose only

On the contrary, they remain positive that India will never legalise sports betting. The bookies, who control the market that stretches from Singapore to the United States and neighbouring Canada, claim the Indian legal system will take many years before arriving at any logical conclusion and turn the recommendation into a law. Worse, it will be difficult for the board to muster political support for the move.

"The demand to legalise betting has been there for almost 10 years but the cash trail runs very deep," claimed a bookie without explaining what he meant exactly by indicating a long, gravy trail. "I leave that to your interpretation," said the bookie.

In the Indian Capital, lawyers said a clearer picture of the recommendation would emerge when the Lodha Report is acted upon by the Supreme Court. "The apex court would decide if the recommendations are binding or not, till then, its very fluid," said Sanjeeb Sen, a top Supreme Court lawyer.

Sen said another issue with the Lodha Committee report is that it did not set any timeline for the BCCI to implement what it recommended. "This is one of the many pushes. No one knows when the million-dollar move will happen, and whether a new law will come in," said Sen.

Demands to take a serious look at legalise betting has been increasing in India because 65 per cent of world's cricket betting revolves around matches played by the Indian national selection. Yet, the board, on its own, has shown no interests to change the rules in sports betting, routine in some of the world's most developed nations.

Records, certified by the Doha-based International Centre for Sports Security, which promotes integrity and security in sports, and confirmed by the Dubai-based International Cricket Council (ICC), say an estimated $200 million is bet on every one-day international played by the Indian cricket team.

"If legalised, a major chunk of the cash would have gone to the coffers of the Indian government that only earns from betting on horse racing. Abroad, funds from sports betting are used to finance elite sports and train athletes," said Vikrant Pachnanda, a top lawyer and editor of India Law Journal which specialises on topical legal issues.

Big matches, big money
Thanks to the proliferation of the illegal system, India's hawala market thrives whenever big matches are played and laundering becomes an inevitable outcome. And the market is thriving. An United Nations conference in Doha last April estimated the global betting market at a mind-boggling $4 trillion.

The UK-based Betting Adda, a website offering "help and advice on sports betting, mainly cricket, to punters", gets 5,000 new registrations and 500,000 visitors each month from India. Another website, www.Indiabet.com, has hooked up with offshore betting agencies like William Hill, bet365, Ladbrokes and Bet fair, thereby allowing Indians to place online bets.

Not just in cricket
"In the US, there is the American Internet Gambling Prohibition Act. But no specific laws exist in the Indian system that bar online gambling. You can today bet on any aspect of matches in IPL," said Pachnanda, adding: "I have heard people betting on soccer and badminton leagues as well."

Last year, some UK betting sites were offering options for Kolkata Soccer League, a lowly ranked soccer tournament in Asia. Cricket cognoscenti claim that BCCI should take a stand, even arguing that it was not alone in demanding change of regulations and that the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), an industry body, has been advocating legalising betting in sports so that the government can earn R12,000 crore to R19,000 crore from it every year. For example, tax on horse racing is as high as 20-25 per cent on the value of the bets placed. All eyes now on the Supreme Court.

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